In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Saturday, March 31, 2012

How to Get Your Shizz Done*

What I mean by this is how to get the stuff done that you need to get done without being overwhelmed by all the things you need to get done. I'm limiting this to day to day work stuff or house stuff -- not curing cancer or becoming a millionaire. (If I could do either, I wouldn't be here and nor would you.)

I've learned a few things and I keep a lot of balls in the air, professionally, and this is how I do it.

1. Get a blank notebook. The notebook is critical. It must be a sketchbook with no lines on the pages, and it must be hardbound -- no spiral. Nothing that will allow pages to be easily ripped out. And it needs to be big -- too big to haul around. It needs to live in one place and serve only one purpose: to handle your shizz. I like this one, size 11x14" -- about $14.
I'm not kidding. No ripped out pages, too big and heavy to carry around.

The blank pages are also critical. Lines box you in, make you feel like you have to follow rules, that things need to be in order. That just heaps one more problem onto your plate. So no lines. This is going to be free form shizz handling, and it is gonig to be organized the way your brain processes information.

2. Get a good pen, one you like to use.

3. These 2 things will never leave your desk or wherever it is you work.

4. Keep a small notebook and another pen by your bedside. That's for writing down those things that wake you up in the middle of the night.

5. In the morning when you sit at your desk and open your email or go through your voice mail or whatever it is that kicks off your day, open yoour notebook to its 2nd pristine page (you want 2 facing pages open to one another. Make sense?) . With your excellent new pen, make a list as you scroll through your work -- a list of things you have to do, or buy, or figure out. If it makes life easier, make 3 loose columns (or however many) on your page -- 1 list of emails or calls to return, 1 list of questions you need to get answered, 1 list of projects you have to complete. Whatever works.

6. Now, start plowing through your list, top to bottom. Do them in the order you wrote them. When you've done something, cross it off. This is the best part. If it needs following up, write down what you need to do at the bottom of the list.

The genius of this is the following: you focus on one thing till it is done or has reached a logical stopping point, but all the other stuff -- the new calls that come in, the new emails, they get written in on the bottom of the list. If something urgent pops up, write it down. Do that project. Then go back to the list.

If your phone rings and you have to take notes, take them right on that facing page. Write down the phone number you need. If you need to buy groceries for dinner, make a little box somewhere on the page and write in what you need to remember to get. Anything from this day goes on those two pages.

7. Remember, there is brilliance in the phrase: do it now. Your boss wants you to write a letter? Generate a list of contacts? Do it now. Then go back to your list.

8. At the end of the workday, and/or where everything requring urgent action is done, turn the page. There will be things left undone on your previous day's list. There will be phone numbers scrawled, maybe some doodles. That's ok for now. Leave the page clean.

9. Tomorrow morning, when you sit at your desk, turn back to the list from the day before. The items that don't have lines through them? Decide if they really need doing. If they do, put them on today's list to start it out. Then continue to populate the list as you go through your day, making sure to cross out the items as you finish them -- that's the fun part.

10. Don't forget to consult your bedside list. Something woke you up? Make sure that gets taken care of the next day, first thing.

Remember: the book never leaves your desk. You'll need a phone number, or some note you jotted, at some point in the future. And it will be there. Any thoughts you have, bits of brilliance, all there.

If you HAVE to go over 2 pages, go over by 2 pages -- start every day with a fresh sheet. This works.

This is a recent one day in my notebook. It looks exactly like my brain.

I should add that I am a lefty and by nature a visual organizer. If something is in a file somewhere, I can't find it and I never remember that it even exists. It also means that my brain makes visual memories. I can remember that a scrap of information that I need or a quote i am looking for is on the left hand side of a page, or written in green ink, or whatever. Then it's just a question of going through the notebook and matching up my visual memory to what's in front of me to find what I need. I suspect other peoples' brains work differently. This free-form shizz handling style will evolve to reflect exactly the way you think, if you let it. I think that is why I resist things like Franklin Covey or those Day Runners or even Microsoft Outlooks attempts to organize my day (or suggestions to have one section of your noteb ook for house, one for work, one for phone numbers etc. I forget that it is there if it is not right in front of me.)

This system doesn't require any discipline at all, really -- because there are no lines to fill, no boxes to check, no categories to adhere to that do not make complete sense to you (and possibly you alone).

You're welcome.

*except laundry. I still won't do my laundry. My friend Truly recently read a book about will power, and the central thought she took away is that we have a set amount of will power to apply to our lives, so if you spread it to o thin you wont get anythign done. ie, if you are trying to lose weight, and do laundry, and get your life organizede, something is gonna fall by the wayside. Laundry is my wayside. If I won the megamillions (if you havent heard, I did not) I'd hire a laundress or launderer straight away. That's the only personal staff I'd need beside a house cleaner every couple of weeks. I'd be a very down to earth megamillionaire.

Monday, March 12, 2012


I just started doing food tours on the weekend ( which is really fun and convenient and puts a nice bit of cash in my pocket (so far people are tipping brilliantly!). It's all in my neighborhood (we are never more than 3 blocks from my house) and I get to talk about the Dinner Table Agreement, the East India Company, The Swamp Fox, Ghosts, The Race Riot of 1835, What Freed Blacks Had to do AND PAY to stay in DC pre Civil War (it SUCKED), The Battle of Bladensburg, DC easement rules, and dog parks. And the Marine Corps. And John Phillips Sousa. Oooh and the Lincoln Assassination, and the death rates in post Civil War alley dwellings (VERY HIGH).

So it's a good time.

Anyway, to shill for even MORE tips I am handing out my own personal guide to DC. I thought I'd share it here. You can tip me on paypal.

Seriously: if you are a reader and are coming to DC, let me know and I will tell you exactly what to do and see and eat.

Jimmy T's -- a 40 year old Capitol Hill institution. Cindy mans the grill; her husband John serves from behind the counter. Don't expect fast service, necessarily, but the food is great, the place is packed to the gills with locals (including Spike from Top Chef, Capitol Hill policemen, the architect of the Capitol, members of Congress, administration officials and journalists.) Tell them Pam sent you and it might mean you get your coffee faster. Fantastic waffles. Closed Mondays. Open really early for breakfast. Cheap

Market Grill: World famous blueberry buckwheat pancakes (saturdays only), homemade bread for ham-egg-and -cheese sandwiches (if you want potatoes on them order The Brick). Awesome fried oysters in season and great crab cakes. The line is long on Saturday mornings so either be there before 8:30 am or come on a Tuesday - Friday. Cheap. Inside Eastern Market. Not open on Mondays.

Oyamel: Would be my last meal on this earth if I could. Gourmet Mexican small plates, tableside guacamole, excellent margaritas from a James Beard award winning chef, Jose Andres (you can see his show, Made in Spain, on PBS). Penn Quarter. Make reservations. Mid-range ($30 a head without drinks)

Little Serow: is hot on the heels of Oyamel for my heart. Spicy, incredible, fresh wonderful northern Thai food made by Johnny Monis, one of the top chefs in the world (he’s the owner of Komi). Dupont Circle. This place is POPULAR. Get there early (5 pm) or late(9 pm) or prepare to wait. No reservations; given them your phone number and they will text you when your table is ready. Go get a drink at the Fox and Hound next door. Prix Fixe -- $45 for 5 courses.

For great relatively cheap tacos on the Senate side, zip over to Taqueria Nacional, next to Johnny’s Half Shell. (right near C-Span’s offices. So you may see politicos and journalists coming in and out. If you see Brian Lamb, tell him Pam (Meg’s friend) said hey. (Really. He knows me.)

For strange but good make a rezzie at Thai Xing. 5th and Florida NW. It's in a townhouse. Prix Fixe. Call a week in advance.

1789: A gorgeous historic restaurant in Georgetown that uses local farmers. Uber romantic.

Tabard Inn: 17th and N -- tucked away behind Dupont Circle. Wonderful food, quaint place. Fireplace in the winter, patio in good weather, cinnamon donuts on Sunday. Make a reservation.

Go to Ris at 23 and L for butterscotch pudding and anything else on the menu, but don’t miss the butterscotch pudding.

Check out where DC’s food trucks are on Subscribe to the Twitter feed and you will know where they are at all times. My favorite is Red Hook lobster rolls. Seoul Food DC is also fabulous.

Cupcakes: My money...Best in the city is at Sweet Lobby, a tiny shop on 8th Street SE near my house (yay), also amazing macarons. Georgetown Cupcake is good but the line goes out the door at all hours... the power of TV *(the liens were there before TV, truthfully, but not alwaysl ike now).

OOH get a homemade Poptart at Ted's Bulletin on 8th Street. And get a happy hour cracked lobster at Senarts on 8th,. About $12. So good.

See a movie at E Street Theater (documentaries, foreign films, indepedent movies) or Uptown (first run movies on a big screen -- the way movies used to be).

Visit 14th above Mass Ave / U Street: hip clothing and antiques and furniture stores. Go to Ben’s Chili Bowl for a Half Smoke (Bill Cosby eats there for free, for life. The president has been there too. It’s an institution). Enoteca for wine and a bite. Cork for dinner. Cork Market for picnic supplies. Don't miss Good Wood on U Street for well curated and not outrageously priced antiques. Lots of wonderful places to eat all over. 9:30 club for a live show. Black Cat, too. The Source theater is also there.

Hire a pedicab to take you around to the monuments at night. Negotiate the price up front. There isn't really a set payment schedule.

Visit the National Building Museum -- incredible interior architecture, and a great museum store.

Visit the National Geographic Museum below Dupont Circle. It costs about $10, really cool exhibits.

Go to the Newseum. If you don’t feel like coughing up the $20 entry fee, at least peruse the newspapers out front. There are about 50, and they change daily. Compare front pages. Then go have mini dumplings at the Source around the corner, Wolfgang Puck’s outpost in DC.

Go to the Renwick -- the small American craft museum across from the White House. Never crowded, always wonderful.

Go to the National Portrait Gallery and visit the folk art exhibit -- truly wonderful.

Rent a canoe or paddleboard in Georgetown and take to the river!

Go the Georgetown Flea Market on Sunday. (across from the Safeway on Wisconsin)

On Thursday eve from April till November go to the farmers market on Vermont Ave near the White House. Mrs Obama sometimes pops out to the market. You never know.

Have a drink on the roof deck of the W at sundown (make a reservation)

Have a drink in the basement of the Hay Adams hotel across from the White House. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie go there whenever they are in town. So does Nelson Mandela, Tony Soprano (I’m sure he loves that I only know his character’s name). So do big time TV journalists. Be sure to complain about media bias! They love that, especially when they are drinking J

If the wind is blowing from the south or east, have a cab drop you off at Buzzard Point with a picnic and watch the planes land... they come in just over your head. It's less exciting when they are taking off to the north.

See an IMAX movie at either Air and Space or Natural History.

Catch a game at National Stadium ($10 seats are great, and you can hang out on the deck with a beer) and go to the Bull Pen (a beer garden during games) right after.

If soccer is more your thing, DC United plays at RFK. Try to sit near the Screaming Eagles.

Go to the Maine Ave seafood market for a weird cross section of both people and fish. Get some steamed crabs with extra old bay seasoning and ask a local how to eat them.

Pick up the free City Paper to see what free events are going on. It comes out on Thursdays.

Go to Mount Vernon in Alexandria. Great tour, cool visitor’s center.

Go to Old Town, Alexandria. Take the food tour there, or just go straight to Jackson 20 and order a Honeysuckle, then go to Restaurant Eve and prepare for the meal of your life. Reservations a must.

Heading into the countryside? Email me!